Since the election, and the proposed deal to shore up the Conservative Government, there has been a barrage of criticism levelled at the DUP, some fair enough, some inaccurate and over the top.
Think of Mac’s cartoon in the Daily Mail, showing caricatures of Irish people all drunk on the floor – wrong on so many levels.
Some of this is because of the shock of the majority of British people seeing a small provincial party with deeply conservative social views out in the open – and in a position of power too – for the first time. Some comes from NI people opposed to the DUP who understandably want to warn the rest of the country about their ‘dinosaur’ tendencies.
But there has perhaps been a second shock: it turns out these dinosaurs are actually quite tough, well-prepared, clever negotiators. And they’ve brought home the bacon, in the form of £1bn of extra public funding.
From a UK wide perspective, it isn’t the dinosaur dimension that is most striking here – the UK Government is not going to rush out and reverse position on equal marriage, for instance. It is rather the contradictory nature of the package the Conservatives have given them.
The DUP asked for a low-tax, high public spending package. And the Tories, whose virtual trade mark since 2010 has been low tax, low spending, live-within-your-means austerity, have given it to them.
The Conservatives, whose leader told a nurse live on TV she couldn’t have a pay rise because ‘there is no magic money tree’ have given that tree a shake, and produced a plum for their NI partners.
The rest of the UK is going to want to know where they have been hiding this tree for all this time. Answer: the Cayman Islands, as Artist Taxi Driver has pointed out (in, be warned, the earthiest possible language).
To make matters worse, the DUP, having pocketed the money, went on to back the Tories in ensuring nurses and fire officers – remember those heroes of Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell? – won’t get a decent pay rise, not on their watch.
Back in Northern Ireland, the rest of us now have to deal with a DUP whose sense of self-importance was already, shall we say, robust, fresh from the doorway of Number Ten.
The extra funding, to be sure, is welcome, and much needed. But perhaps DUP celebrations should be tempered by the damage that they have done to their own and Northern Ireland’s reputation with others across the UK. The Scots, Welsh and English regions will be furious. Even the Scots Tories must be looking at this deal with distaste. And it’s unlikely that the deal will have done anything to endear the DUP to the English Tory Government they’ve struck it with.
The DUP’s obvious delight at scoring all this money is typical of a party that can’t tell the difference between the weather and the climate. They return to Northern Ireland claiming to have brought the sunshine; but at what cost to the general political climate?
Are we entering a period of the deeper entrenchment of traditional divisions, and a contradictory fiscal position that cannot be sustained? What are the implications for the constitutional question in Northern Ireland, and for the Institutions set up in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement?
Jenny Muir will address those and related issues in the next post!
30 June 2017